Moon High School football coach Mark Washington sums up Charlie Brenner's return to the team this way:
"Charlie Brenner is the comeback story of the year," Washington said. "Charlie has had to deal with more adversity in his short life than most individuals do in a lifetime. He's an inspiration to me and his teammates."
Brenner was a part-time starter as a freshman and an All-Parkway Conference guard as a sophomore. He also started at defensive end as a sophomore.
"Charlie had a few Division I schools showing an interest after that season," Washington said. "That's when the world started crashing down on him."
Things actually began unraveling for Brenner when he was only 12.
"We were on our way back from our summer vacation when mom had a heart attack," Brenner said of his mother, Terrie. "She died one hour later. It was a huge shock to me and my dad."
Brenner said his father used alcohol as a crutch to deal with the unexpected death of his wife.
"He was involved in a drinking and driving accident and the person he hit died," Brenner said. "He was convicted and sent to Camp Hill prison. He's been there for 2 and 1/2 years."
Brenner then went to live with his father's girlfriend, but that didn't last long.
"We had some issues," Brenner said. "I eventually moved in with friends of my parents."
Brenner said he also "got into some trouble" and was placed at Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, a school that deals with troubled students.
"I went to Holy Family at the start of my junior year and stayed there until Christmas," said Brenner, who missed the football and basketball seasons. "I had to prove to them and to myself that I could come back."
Brenner went to live with Stacey and Eugene Kaminski and their son, Tim Cider.
"[The Kaminskis and Cider] have been there for me when I needed their help the most," Brenner said. "I truly appreciate all they have done for me. I don't know where I would be without their help."
Despite their help, Brenner still felt a void in his life. He missed playing football and basketball.
"The turning point for me was the 7-on-7 camp we attended at Pitt," said Brenner, an avid weightlifter. "They had a Big Man Challenge and I was second in the bench press. I benched 185 pounds 31 times. The next weekend, we went to another camp at Johnstown and I benched 185 pounds 41 times."
Brenner also broke Moon's bench-press record ... twice.
"The school record was 405 and I did 410," Brenner said. "I've also benched 420 since then. Lifting gets me going. It gives me a chance to get all my anger out."
Brenner, who is 6 feet 3, 265 pounds, is playing in his senior year with hopes of making up for lost time.
"I made some mistakes, which cost me my junior year of football," Brenner said. "But I've learned from my mistakes. I want to finish my senior year on a high note."
He wants to continue his athletic and academic career in college.
"I've been able to maintain a 3.1 grade-point average over the past three years," Brenner said. "And my hope is to bring that average up by the time I graduate. I want to finish strong, but realize I have a lot of work ahead of me."
Brenner hopes to earn a college scholarship.
"I've had several schools send letters, but none has made an offer," he said. "The problem is that nobody got to see me play last year. I need to get off to a good start to show those coaches what I can do."
Brenner and his Tigers teammates got off to a good start with a 56-23 road victory against Chartiers Valley in the season opener and a 14-6 win against Blackhawk last week.
They face a big test tonight when they visit defending WPIAL champion West Allegheny.
"It was so good to see Charlie back on the football field, after all he's been through," Washington said. "I'm expecting a big season from Charlie and from the team."
Washington has also been a little more than a coach for Brenner.
"Charlie has spent some weekends with me and my family," Washington said. "He even attends our church when he stays with us. He's a good kid who has been dealt a bad hand, but he's making the best of it. It's so good to have him back. We are so proud of him."